Lower Bowel Disease in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 11, 2008

Proliferative Bowel Disease

Proliferative bowel disease (PBD) is an infection of the ferret's lower colon caused by the spiral bacteria Lawsonia intracellularis (an organism which is also closely related to the bacterium causing proliferative enteritis in hamsters and swine). A relatively uncommon disease, it is seen primarily in ferrets 12 weeks to 6 months of age and in older ferrets with compromised immune systems. It is also thought that male ferrets are more susceptible to PBD.

Symptoms and Types

Diarrhea originating from the colon or large intestine is the most common symptom for PBD. It may be profuse and watery, but is more often green in color with mucous and blood. Ferrets with this form of diarrhea will struggle while defecating and cry out in pain. Other signs of PBD include:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Anorexia
  • Weakness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Fecal and urine staining of anal area


The Lawsonia intracellularis bacteria causes the disease, however, stress, poor hygiene and a diminished immune function in ferrets are contributing factors for PBD.


After conducting a physical examination, your veterinarian may want to run blood tests and a urinalysis to confirm PBD in the ferret. Otherwise, they will examine its fecal matter for parasites and take a biopsy of the animal's colon.


Unless diarrhea is severe and your veterinarian determines that your ferret is dehydrated, it will be treated as an outpatient; otherwise, it will be given intravenous fluids. Meanwhile, ferrets suffering from anorexia may refuse kibble, but are often willing to eat canned cat foods, meat baby foods, or high-calorie liquid or paste dietary supplements.

Rectal prolapse -- a protrusion of the rectal walls through the anus -- is not uncommon in cases of PBD, and should be surgically repaired and closed until the ferret's feces return to a normal consistency. As such, you should to monitor the animal while it defecates to make sure the sutures stay in place. Otherwise, your veterinarian will prescribe appropriate medication, such as pain relievers or antibiotics.

Living and Management

Fortunately, most ferrets with mild to moderate PBD respond well to medication, although animals with the chronic type of the disease may require long-term therapy. Also, the veterinarian will direct you to monitor the ferret and bring it back for a checkup if the diarrhea continues.


Keeping the ferret's environment sanitary and stress-free will usually prevent PBD in your animal.

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